A Puzzle Without a Solution?

MIKE WHEELER listens to Ravel and Chopin played by Russian-born British pianist Petr Limonov


Ravel paying tribute to Schubert, and Chopin glancing over his shoulder towards J S Bach, formed an interesting pair in Petr Limonov's Sunday morning piano recital - Royal Concert Hall, Nottingham, UK, 12 February 2023.

Ravel's title, Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, is a conscious reference to two sets of Schubert waltzes. It flags up the expressive variety of the set as a whole while, as the programme-note pointed out, leaving wide open the question of which is which, and indeed the extent to which each waltz combines both characteristics. Limonov negotiated the expressive range nimbly, finding plenty of impetus and incisiveness in No 1, and melancholy in the second. The dialogue between the upper and lower areas of the keyboard was well sustaiined in No 4. There were some delectable details, but sometimes at the expense of the longer line; No 6, for instance, could, at times, have taken a greater sense of continuity from one phrase to the next. The climactic seventh waltz was given its expressive head, followed by the ghosts of previous waltzes assembling in No 8, with Limonov conjuring a real sense of fragility as Ravel rings down the curtain.

Online publicity for Petr Limonov's 12 February 2023 Nottingham Royal Concert Hall recital
Online publicity for Petr Limonov's 12 February 2023
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall recital

What exactly were Chopin's intentions in his Preludes, Op 28? Exploring all the major and minor keys, though in a different sequence from Bach's Well-tempered Clavier, is it one big work or twenty-four short ones? Or both at once? Or perhaps this epic sequence of miniatures is simply a puzzle without a solution.

Petr Limonov's minimal breaks from one prelude to the next suggested that he views it more as a single entity, though each one was fully charcterised. After easing us in gently from Ravel's world in the first prelude, he explored the dark landscape of No 2, as he took us along the emotional switch-back ride that followed. Among the more introspective preludes, in No 4 he looked back almost to Ravel at his most melancholic. And as the introspection darkened in a number of the later preludes, Limonov gave it full value: No 9 became positively stern, the central section of No 15 - the so-called 'Raindrop' Prelude - clouded over inexorably, the tolling bass notes in No 17 rang out starkly, and in No 18 anxiety verged on brusqueness.

But Limonov also found lightness, even humour, where appropriate. The ending of No 5 was positively skittish; the sparkle he brought to No 10 highlighted the contrast with the one before while, in another contrasting pair, after the stormy No 22 he brought out a Fauré-like delicacy in the prelude that followed. But there is more turmoil in the last prelude, and Limonov gave it an appropriate sense of finality.

He announced his encore as 'Chopin's Mazurka in F minor', but didn't say which of the three in that key he was playing.

Copyright © 22 February 2023 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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